In the fall of 1998 Pete Gaudet was looking for work as a teacher in Nashville. He had a few promising leads, but instead of following up on them he took a job running a computer lab for at-risk kids at Pearl-Cohn High, an inner-city school. Gaudet didn't know much about computers, but he certainly could relate to kids who had fallen on hard times.
Gaudet was Mike Krzyzewski's top assistant for 12 seasons at Duke from 1983-84 to '94-95. Midway through the '94-95 season, however, Krzyzewski had to go on medical leave because of an ailing back, and Gaudet became the interim coach. The young Blue Devils had gotten off to a 9-3 start under Krzyzewski but went 4-15 thereafter, and Duke ended up with its only losing season in the last 18 years. Between the fallout from that performance and the fact that he was making only $16,000 as a restricted-earnings coach—a limitation since ruled illegal thanks to a class-action suit led by Gaudet—he decided to leave Durham in May 1995. "I've never been bitter about anything that's happened in this profession," says Gaudet, 58, who's now in his second season as an assistant with the Vanderbilt women's team.
A year after the Duke debacle, Gaudet took a job under Vanderbilt men's coach Jan van Breda Kolff, but their personalities clashed and Gaudet quit in September of 1998. Latching on to another coaching position so close to the beginning of the season was nearly impossible, so Gaudet took the job at Pearl-Cohn High.
It was fitting that Gaudet become a teacher. As a coach he was never known for his recruiting or bench skills, but he did earn a reputation as one of the game's best instructors, especially of big men, having worked with Christian Laettner and Cherokee Parks, among others, at Duke. "As I got further and further along in my career," he says, "I found the things I enjoyed were the teaching aspects of coaching."
Gaudet's instructional abilities were not lost on Jim Foster, the women's coach at Vanderbilt. After Gaudet spent a semester at Pearl-Cohn High, Foster offered him a job. "What young coaches now don't understand is that successful coaches have someone around them with gray hair," says Foster, whose Commodores are 21-9 and ranked No. 15 in the nation as of Monday. "Teaching gets neglected."
It hasn't at Vanderbilt of late. "My fundamentals were very raw when I came in," says sophomore center Chantelle Anderson. "I was looking for a good post coach." Shortly after Anderson signed, Foster hired Gaudet. This season Anderson has shot an astonishing 71.0% and scored 26 points in a 77-74 upset of No. 1 Tennessee last week in a semifinal of the SEC tournament.
Gaudet isn't bothered that his job as a women's assistant is low-profile. As his experience at Duke showed him, the limelight isn't always flattering. What's more, it's not as if women's basketball doesn't have its advantages. Last summer as Commodores forward Zuzi Klimesova was about to leave Gaudet's office for the final time before summer break, she stopped short of the door and asked if she could give him a hug. Said an acquiescing Gaudet, "That's one of the main differences. Laettner never asked for a hug."